I want to reveal up front that I’m not a therapist although sometimes I play one on TV. Literally. I have a podcast and enjoy listening to stories of people in transition. Why? Because when we’re in transition, we’re most vulnerable. And people most vulnerable are the most human. They admit their fears and decide to face them. How they do it varies but there are essential qualities that all people have in transition. As I’ve interviewed them, I find these similarities.
Moment of truth – usually preceded by some perceived catastrophic event that shakes them up and asks what now – death of a spouse, diagnosis of cancer, declaration of divorce, getting fired, accepting the challenge of a new job, moving from one city or country to another, and so on. Something is about to be lost and dealing with that loss makes one conscious of the fragility of life that necessitates some action. Things no longer can stay “the same”. There is an ending which transitions into the unknown.
Feeling lost and alone – at the point of consciousness that change is occurring, we step into a phase – the neutral zone – that is characterized by anxiety, fear and lack of control. It is uncomfortable for sure because there is nothing to cling to – nothing to support your concerns. Nothing to do but face the truth which is unnerving and real. There’s no escape because the time is nigh. The discomfort comes from not knowing when this period of adjustment will end. Some day is all you know. You can wish for it to end but you can’t will it. It goes on in spite of your efforts and will until there is the hint of a new beginning.
The Ah Ha moment. At some point, you have a vision – a hint at something new that gives you some hope. That revelation becoming conscious and real is the moment to turn from anxiety to opportunity. For example, when you get divorced, you suddenly realize that the one and only you gave up is one of 10,000 who might satisfy your needs – socially, psychologically and physically. The excitement of change offers hope of getting out of the neutral zone and into living again. But it is a slow transition – one that can take months and even years. If the new beginning holds promise, you learn to wait.
Here are some specific examples I have on my podcast that illustrate these essential qualities.
Kathy Olson lost her husband to cancer a year before I interviewed her. She was devastated by his unexpected early death because her husband had taken such good care of her throughout their marriage. She never felt alone or afraid. So his death created a chasm of emotional depth never before experienced. It was the neutral zone in spades. How did she deal with it? She started reading about meditation and Buddhist teachings that served to provide some solace and support. She reached out to her family and friends to maintain her social connections and find new ones. She spent time reflecting on her situation and going deeply into her grief and loss. Realizing she wasn’t dead yet and learning that her husband had protected her even in his demise by setting up a resource file containing his personal information about wills, internet connections, pension and bank accounts so she would have access to all of these and more. She knew nothing about it except that he told her where the information was stored. Her adult children gave her help in finding them and Cathy let the world into her life as she discovered these and other helpful items needed to carry on her life.
Jim Jaffe went through numerous transitions in his career that lead to extreme adventure and far-flung work opportunities. His confidence and personal strength coupled with some good luck and hard work provided the vehicle for getting through and as he said “figuring it out”.
Terry Franke found himself without an employer after 29 years with a well-known consulting firm where he was a partner and senior executive. He was lost for a while. With the help of a sorcerer who told him to exercise his creativity, he started a new business. Struggling through its beginnings, it has blossomed into a full time growing venture.
Rich Morassi experienced something that frightens every parent – the death of his child. Devastated and alone, he sought solace in writings, Buddhist literature, nature and his wife. Slowly, diligently and with intent, he emerged into a healthy vibrant sole, with loving memories and an understanding of the cleansing of grief.
These are just some of the fascinating stories you can hear in my podcasts. If you have a transition story you’d like to share, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.